New West Northamptonshire Council needs to 'do the boring well' with month to go before launch

Shadow leader believes April 1 will be the start of a bright future for unitary authority

Monday, 1st March 2021, 4:05 pm
Updated Monday, 1st March 2021, 4:45 pm

The new West Northamptonshire Council needs to 'do the boring well' to avoid the mistakes of the past, its shadow leader has said.

In exactly one month's time, Northamptonshire's local government structure will go from a county council and seven lower-tier authorities to two unitaries covering the north and west.

The biggest local government change in 40 years was decided by the government after Northamptonshire County Council's financial collapse in 2018.

West Northamptonshire Council will launch on April 1 with Ian McCord as leader and Anna Earnshaw as chief executive

Ian McCord, the leader of the West Northamptonshire shadow authority, set up to work on the transformation in the background ahead of 'vesting day' on April 1, hopes this will be a fresh start.

"The single biggest lesson we have learned is that we need to do the boring well and get the basics right," he said.

"Not being too adventurous and making sure that one plus one equals two."

West Northamptonshire Council will take over responsibility for all council services in Northampton borough and South Northamptonshire and Daventry districts.

Cllr McCord paid tribute to the county council's senior leadership for turning its fortunes around and providing a healthy amount of reserves after being the first local authority to declare bankruptcy.

The leader of South Northamptonshire Council admitted it was 'not the finest moment for local government' but believes the past should be left in the past.

"We're confident we have a firm foundation for the new council and we're happy to be having the launch," he said.

"With a month to go we're really ramping up all our preparations and we will be ready on time, everything will slot in place and we will be safe and legal which is the most important thing."

Chief executive Anna Earnshaw said a huge amount of work has gone in by officers to make the change as seamless as possible for residents and businesses.

But she added the coronavirus pandemic has affected how much transformation they have been able to achieve before 'vesting day'.

The hope is for the new councils to be more efficient, both financially and practically, and improve the current standard of services, Ms Earnshaw added.

One example of that is the timeframe for processing applications for disabled facilities grants has gone from 20 weeks to 10 days with the merging of councils.

Cllr McCord said: "I want to reassure people that we are on track here, it's a difficult message as everything is going to change but nothing is going to change.

"Everything will change for councils but nothing residents as their carers will still turn up and their bins will be emptied, all these services they rely on will continue."

West Northamptonshire Council will be made up of 93 councillors to be elected on May 6, which will be going ahead despite the pandemic.

Ms Earnshaw insisted polling stations and the count, held at a 3,000sqm space at Silverstone Park, will be safe for voters and staff, while posting voting has been encouraged.

The new councillors will have much to discuss, not least what council buildings will be kept and what presence it will have in each town.

One Angel Square in Northampton will be its official head office to start with but a review will decide what to do with the offices in Daventry and Towcester.

Cllr McCord insisted no areas will be ignored with proportionate resources given to the urban and rural parts of the council's geography.

"The things people want from their council, like their bins being emptied, their carer to turn up, sensitive planning that makes sense and making town centres attractive places to live, work and visit, they're the same if you live in Daventry or Deanshanger or Northampton or Brackley or Towcester," he said.

"Yes you may have more of those issues in some areas and there are some differences but the actual issues aren't that different."

He added: "I hope as we go forward that there's more that unites us than what divides us."